Image: Kristina Alexanderson via Flickr

Understanding de-fresh-ion

What is depression? While Freshers may be a time of excitement and fun for many, some may find being so far away from home challenging. This, coupled with a nature that perhaps isn’t suited to going out and partying may lead to a feeling of immense isolation. Here’s some info if you start to feel depressed over Freshers.

Depression is currently the 4th leading cause of disability. Accord- ing to the Royal Society of Psychia- trists two-thirds of Britons with depression do not seek treatment probably due to the stigma and ta- boo associated with mental illness.

Depression is not a sign of weakness. It is not your fault. It is not something you can ‘snap out of.’

At its most severe, major depression can be life threatening, making you feel suicidal. Depression can affect the way in which we feel, behave and think about ourselves. If you feel low-spirited for much of the day, every day, restless, easily tearful, numb or empty, unable to relate to others, irritable or impatient, helpless or finding yourself unable to find joy in things you usually find fun, then you may be suffering from depression. Furthermore, if you are self- harming or find yourself having difficulty remembering, concentrating, making decisions or having bleak, negative or suicidal thoughts, it is worth going to your GP for a diagnosis.

Something that can often be forgotten is that depression is not just a strictly mental illness. Physical symptoms can include difficulty sleeping, feeling tired or without energy, having a loss of appetite or eating too much. Acknowledging depression re- quires a lot of bravery and courage but this may be difficult to spot if the symptoms come on gradually. There is no instant solution as solving problems involves time, energy, determination and work. When you feel depressed, you may feel lethargic or unmotivated. But if you are able to engage in your treatment, it should help your situation and hopefully you should start to see some progress.

If you are in the depths of depression it can be difficult to break the cycle of automatic negative thinking. Being in a state of depression can become a bigger problem than the actual difficulties that caused depression in the first place. The most important decision you can make is deciding to do something to help your situation. Try to recognise your triggers for your negative thinking and replace it with a more constructive activity. Research suggests that regular exercise can be effective in lifting your mood and by increasing your activity levels your appetite and sleep will also improve.

Photo: flickr/Tejvan Pettinger

Photo: flickr/Tejvan Pettinger

Although this may initially be difficult to do, it can be therapeutic to take part in physical activity for 30 minutes a day. Some alternative ideas are cycling, swimming and team sports, which will also give you the opportunity to make social contact with others. You may not feel like it but keeping in touch with people can help you feel better and get things into more perspective. Maybe try a short phone call to a close friend or relative, or if you can’t manage that, just an email or text. When you feel ready, you may find it helpful to help other people such as volunteering. This may help you overcome feelings of isolation and distract yourself. Self-help groups are also a possibility where sufferers meet to share their experiences. Furthermore, they show how other people have coped and provide mutual support and help prevent isolation. You need to do activities which make you feel good about yourself. This can be something as simple as taking a bath or meeting a friend.

You deserve to have some time for yourself and some fun too! Start to set yourself some goals which are achievable and slowly this will start to give you a sense of satisfaction. Look after yourself by eating a healthy and balanced diet. I know that this is easier said than done, especially when you are overwhelmed by depression. The Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme offers talking interventions available to everyone who needs them. A referral is normally required which can be obtained via a GP. The choices will be dependent on the service in your local area, your preferences and the severity of your depression.

Talking treatments are highly established treatments for depression according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists.The most effective treatment is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT does not remove your problems but helps to manage them in a more effective manner. The purpose of CBT is to encourage you to examine how your actions and thoughts affect how you feel. This type of therapy involves the use of self-help books with a therapist but the specific methods are dependent on the intensity of your symptoms. This is normally a form of short-term treatment lasting three months but can also be available for up to 12 months, if needed. Antidepressants attempt to regulate brain chemicals (such as serotonin and noradrenaline) to lift your mood. It often takes between two to six weeks before the drugs take effect. They do not cure depression but provide a means by

which you are able to take action to deal with the problems causing your depression. Whatever treatment your doctor recommends it is important to understand there are no ‘instant’ solutions. You may have to try several antidepressants to find the most effective drug for you and wait for several weeks to see if it benefits you at all. It is important to be patient and trust your doctor during the initial stages. Antidepressants can cause unpleasant side effects, which tend to be worse during the initial stages of treatment.

Depression is devastating for those who experience it directly but its effects are wide spread. Those who are close to a depressed person may struggle with feeling helpless and the challenge of ‘being there’ for their friend or family member. It can be a confusing and frightening time for both of you but your support can make a difference in the process of your loved one obtaining an appropriate diagnosis and maintaining a treatment plan. It is important to encourage your friend or family member to seek treatment. Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and helplessness are a major part of depression which can mean that someone avoids their family and friends rather than asking for help. Try to reassure them that it is possible to improve their situation, but remain calm, caring and sympathetic. If they re- fuse your concern, do not be disheartened but address the situation again in good time if their mental health does not improve. Encourage them to

Photo: flickr/Texas A&M University Commerce Marketing Communications Photography's photostream

Photo: flickr/Texas A&M University Commerce Marketing Communications Photography’s photostream

share their emotions and feelings, frequently as simply listening to them may provide some relief. Try to get them to think about what they can do, or what they need to change, in order to deal with their depression. If someone lives alone maybe give them a simple phone call or text so they know you’re concerned about

There are services available for students at the University as well as in the community, such as your personal tutor, senior tutor and the Mental Health coordinators. Your personal tutor is most likely to be your best source of advice and support. They should direct you to more relevant support services and make allowances for deadlines. However, if you find this too daunting the Mental Health Coordinators have a great deal of experience engaging with students with mental health difficulties. They can identify support needs, discuss strategies for managing student life and provide short term or ongoing support. Furthermore they are able to liaise with your academic department as well as assist with DSA application forms and provide much needed information about other University and local mental health services.

Ultimately, we have a responsibility to help others who may need it where students with mental illnesses do not feel as if they have to hide, feel ashamed and confident that sharing their story is brave and courageous. Rethink mental illness now where there is no stigma, taboo, shame, ignorance or discrimination, where each student’s story is treated with compassion and understanding. No one should be judged for being ill.


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